This week, a group representing area law enforcement and legislators met at a Jonesborough event venue to discuss how to best spend a multimillion dollar settlement reached in the Baby Doe opioid lawsuit.
In July, opioid maker Endo Health Solutions Inc. and Endo Pharmaceuticals Inc. agreed to pay $35 million to settle the suit brought by counties and municipalities in East Tennessee to help alleviate the burden the opioid epidemic brought to the region.
At Wednesday’s meeting, according to Press Staff Writer David Floyd, Criminal Court Judge Stacy Street suggested using the funds to create a residential addiction treatment facility where people referred by recovery courts could receive treatment for substance abuse disorders and participate in vocational training.
Street and 1st Judicial District Attorney General Ken Baldwin said addiction can be partially blamed for the region’s skyrocketing incarceration rates in the last decade, and the current practice of jailing low-level offenders who may be struggling with addiction does little to solve the underlying causes of crime or to break the cycle of re-offending and re-incarceration.
Street suggested using the former Northeast Correctional Complex Annex in Roan Mountain, with room for 180 beds, as a dormitory for the long-term residential treatment facility. Residents would attend vocational school in Carter County.
It’s clear current practices aren’t working, and it’s time to try something different.
Street’s new approach may be the solution for thousands of local residents struggling with addiction, and we can’t think of a better use for the settlement funds than to help them break free.
It will, however, require buy-in from the community.
As Baldwin pointed out this week, the money from the lawsuit will help set up the foundation for the program, but it will need sustained funding from state, federal and local sources to be successful.
The costs of a program that reduces recidivism in theory would be paid for when fewer people are incarcerated, and instead are productive members of the community.
We’re willing to give the plan, and these individuals, a chance.